When it comes to writing about prayer, I consider myself qualified to do so only as a fellow sojourner who desires to see people in my life to come to know Jesus. I want God’s power to flow through me for the advancement of his Kingdom.
At some unconscious level, I used to think that someone’s conversion was up to me, my clever presentation of the gospel, my compelling apologetic, my solid argument. I thought it was my job to convict, confront, and convince others of the error of their ways. But—and is this really surprising?—more often than not my arguments and debates wedged a greater distance between me and the one I’d had the interchange with. Operating from my own strength, I saw the powerlessness of my words in the absence of God’s influence. Paul reminds me that the gospel—not my profundity—is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes (Romans 1:16, NIV).
As a result, I am faced with the humbling reality that I cannot save anyone. I cannot convict or convince anyone. This is not my role. My job is to pray to the One who can convict, convince and save, as Jesus teaches in John 6.
“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day. It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from him come to me.” (verses 44-45, NIV)
I have also learned that I must depend on God in prayer as I participate in the process of others coming to know him because my own strength is insufficient to combat our spiritual adversary. Pastor, church planter, and speaker Lon Allison reminded me of the spiritual dimension to this struggle when I heard him at a conference:
Sometimes we think that if we know just the right words [to say] a person will believe…. The Bible awakens us to a reality that we sometimes forget—Satan is alive and well. We forget our battle is not against flesh and blood…. There is no issue or area in your life where you are most in the fray against forces you can’t see than when you are doing evangelism.
C.S. Lewis puts it this way, “There is no neutral ground in the universe. Every square inch, every split second, is claimed by God and counterclaimed by Satan.” We have an adversary in this spiritual battle for the hearts, minds and souls of our coworkers, friends and neighbors.
But we cannot fight the “evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world” (Ephesians 6:12, NLT) with our own strength. That battle belongs to God and knowing this grants us great freedom. God is the source of all the power needed; he alone can defeat the enemy and rescue the human heart, and that releases us from the burden of results. He’s got this! Yet he also graciously invites us to join him through prayer.
And the simple, beautiful, amazing reality is, each one of us can.
Co-author of The 9 Arts of Spiritual Conversations